Archive E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Augustine and Simul Iustus et Peccator (1)

Martin Luther is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for his insistence that redeemed man is simul iustus et peccator, at once righteous and sinner. The doctrine is especially useful for coming to terms with how one can be fully justified before God and yet struggle with remaining sin.

Henry Chadwick, in his delightful Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (of which I might post a brief review here in the future), points out that Augustine has his own version of the idea:

Even the best and holiest of believers, he once declared (CD xix.27), knows that in this life ‘our righteousness consists more in the remission of sins than in perfection of virtues’. The baptized believer is both just and a sinner (P 140.14f.; E 185.40). For Augustine this confession of the believer’s continual need for pardon was enhanced by his strong sense of the nothingness of the creature before the sublimity of God. Here was language to fire Martin Luther. (p. 63)

In two posts, I’d like to examine the two passages that are cited regarding an Augustinian simul iustus et peccator. The first is from his sermon on 141 (140 LXX), found in his Enarrationes in Psalmos.1


14. Postremo, quia in corpore Christi es, et adhuc portas mortalitatem quamdam; tu tibi esto iustus, et in te esto iustus. Peccator es, vindica in te; redi ad conscientiam tuam, exige de te poenas, crucia teipsum. Ita enim offers sacrificium Deo. Quia si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique, ait peccator, holocaustis non delectaberis. Quid ergo? nullum accipit sacrificium? Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus; cor contritum et humiliatum Deus non spernit. Humilia cor tuum, contere cor tuum, crucia cor tuum; et tu ipsum emendabis in misericordia: non enim odisti te, cum saevis in te. Eris in parte emendante iustus, quamvis sis adhuc in emendanda peccator: ex qua parte enim tibi displices, iniustus es; ex qua tibi displicet in te quod iniustum est, iustus es. Vis videre quam iustus es? Hoc in te tibi displicet quod et Deo: iam coniunxisti te voluntati Dei, et in teipso non quod ille fecit, sed quod ille odit odisti. Ex eo quod odisti in te quod fecisti, quod odit et ille qui hoc non fecit, coepisti in te esse severus; erit ille misericors: parcet, quia tu non pepercisti. Ergo ex quo coniunctus es oculis eius, et condelectaris legi eius, et hoc in te arguis quod lex eius arguit, et hoc in te tibi displicet quod et oculis Dei displicet, vide quam iustus es: ex quo autem lapsus fecisti ea quae displicent Deo, et fragilitate quadam infirmitatis humanae prolaberis in illa, et adhuc portas infirmitatem carnis, et gemis cuiusdam reluctationis conscientia, ex hac parte iniquus et peccator es.

15. Quomodo, inquies, ex quadam parte iustus, ex quadam parte peccator? quid est quod dicis? Laboramus, videmur loqui contraria, nisi nobis subveniat apostolica auctoritas. Audi illud ab Apostolo, ne me malus intellector accuses:Condelector enim, inquit, legi Dei secundum interiorem hominem. Ecce iustus. Annon est iustus qui condelectatur legi Dei? Unde ergo peccator? Video aliam legem in membris meis, repugnantem legi mentis meae, et captivum me ducentem in lege peccati. Adhuc bellum adversus me gero, nondum sum totus instauratus ad imaginem fabricatoris mei; coepi resculpi, et ex ea parte qua reformor, displicet mihi quod deforme est. Ergo quamdiu ita sum, quid spero? Infelix ego homo, quis me liberabit de corpore mortis huius? Gratia Dei per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Gratia Dei quae coepit iam resculpere, gratia Dei quae infundit suavitatem, ut iam per interiorem hominem condelecteris legi Dei: inde caetera sanabuntur, unde et ista sanata sunt. Geme adhuc vulneratus, castiga te, displice tibi.


14. Finally, because you are in the body of Christ and still carry about a certain mortality, you be just to yourself, and be just against yourself. You are a sinner, take vengeance upon yourself; betake yourself to your conscience, exact punishments from yourself, crucify yourself. For thus you offer sacrifice to God. Because if you had wanted sacrifice, indeed I would have given it, says the sinner; you will not delight in whole burnt-offerings. What then? Does he accept no sacrifice? Sacrifice for God is a crushed spirit; a heart bruised and humbled God does not reject. Humble your heart, bruise your heart, crucify your heart; and you will correct yourself in mercy: for you do not hate yourself, when you vent your anger against yourself. You will be just in the part [of you] that chastises, although you be still a sinner in the part that must be chastised. For with respect to that part in which you are displeasing to yourself, you are unjust; with respect to that part in which that which is unjust in you is displeasing to you, you are just. Do you wish to see how just you are? This thing in you is displeasing to you which is also displeasing to God: already you have joined yourself to the will of God, and you hate in yourself not what God did, but what God hates. From the fact that you hate in yourself what you did, which he also hates who did not do it, you have begun to be stern against yourself; he will be merciful. He will spare you, because you have not spared yourself. Therefore, insofar as you have been joined to his eyes, and you delight in his law, and you rebuke in yourself this thing which his law rebukes, and this thing in you is displeasing to you which is also displeasing to the eyes of God, see how just you are; insofar, however, as, having fallen, you have done things which are displeasing to God, and, due to a certain frailty of human weakness, you have fallen into those things, and you still carry around the weakness of the flesh, and you groan because of the consciousness of a certain struggle, in respect to this part you are unjust and a sinner.

15. How, you will say, [can a person be] just in one part, a sinner in another part? What is this that you are saying? We are struggling, we seem to say contradictory things, unless apostolic authority should come to our aid. Hear that [word] of the Apostle, in order that a person with bad understanding may not accuse me: “For I delight,” he says, “in the law of God according to the inner man.” Behold, [he is] just. Isn’t he just who delights in the law of God? Whence, then, [is he] a sinner? “I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and leading me captive in the law of sin.” I still wage war against myself, I am not yet wholly renewed according to the image of my maker; I have begun to be refashioned, and in accordance with this part in which I am being reformed, that which is deformed is displeasing to me. Therefore, for how long I am thus, what do I hope for? “Unhappy man [am] I, who will free me from the body of this death? The Grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The grace of God which has now begun to refashion, the grace of God which pours agreeableness in, such that now according to the inner man you delight in the law of God. Thence the rest will be healed, whence also those [aspects] have been healed. Groan as one still wounded, chastise yourself, be displeased with yourself.


In this selection, it is evident that Augustine connects the simul iustus et peccator idea not with (in Protestant terms) justification, but rather with sanctification. This is clear, for example, from his use in paragraph 15 of Romans 7. At the same time, it is interesting to observe in what precise respect the sinner being sanctified is iustus. From paragraph 14, it seems that it is not by what we might call a “positive” holiness arising from particular good works (“I did x, y, and z today”), but from agreeing with God’s judgment against our own sin (recall the passage from City of God cited by Chadwick above: “our righteousness consists more in the remission of sins than in perfection of virtues”)–though he does say in 15, of course, that the “inner man” of the redeemed delights in God’s law. No one should find this objectionable, since he is simply quoting the Apostle Paul. For Augustine here, then, insofar as we agree with God in his judgment of us as sinners, chastise ourselves for sin, and “wage war” against ourselves, we are just: just because we recognize our injustice, and groan over it.

There is much truth in this; it is probable that every Christian knows the struggle to which Augustine refers. Still, it is not quite the Reformation idea–but it points the way toward it. The Reformers, and Luther especially, understood that getting right with God, at its very core, comes not by humility, but by faith: not sola humilitate, but sola fide. But what do we do by faith? Part of what we do is to agree with God’s judgment of us as sinners. We hear the verdict that everyone who sins deserves death, we recognize ourselves as sinners, and we agree with the verdict. But we say further that the judgment against sin that we merited was manifested on the cross of Jesus Christ, where he fully paid the penalty due for sin. By faith we assent to God’s judgment against us and receive his remedy. By faith we lay hold of Christ and his righteousness–Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended. If that is the case, then the justice that is ours is in the first analysis extra nosaliena a nobis, though it is also worked out in nobis as we grow in faith, hope, and love, as we are “renewed according to the image of our maker.”


  1. The translation below is my own, but you can find an older one here, and the most recent translation here.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

5 replies on “Augustine and Simul Iustus et Peccator (1)”

I think it may be worth reflecting on how psychologically close what the Reformers meant by justifying faith is to a certain kind of humility, too. For example, Calvin comments on Psalm 51:17 this way:

“Is it objected, that faith is a more excellent sacrifice that that which is here commended by the Psalmist, and of greater efficacy in procuring the Divine favor, as it presents to the view of God that Savior who is the true and only propitiation? I would observe, that faith cannot be separated from the humility of which David speaks. This is such a humility as is altogether unknown to the wicked. They may tremble in the presence of God, and the obstinacy and rebellion of their hearts may be partially restrained, but they still retain some remainders of inward pride. Where the spirit has been broken, on the other hand, and the heart has become contrite, through a felt sense of the anger of the Lord, a man is brought to genuine fear and self-loathing, with a deep conviction that of himself he can do or deserve nothing, and must be indebted unconditionally for salvation to Divine mercy. That this should be represented by David as constituting all which God desires in the shape of sacrifice, need not excite our surprise. He does not exclude faith, he does not condescend upon any nice division of true penitence into its several parts, but asserts in general, that the only way of obtaining the favor of God is by prostrating ourselves with a wounded heart at the feet of his Divine mercy, and supplicating his grace with ingenuous confessions of our own helplessness.”

Dear Andrew,

I certainly don’t mean to disparage humility; it’s one of the virtues I’m most proud of.

True faith must of course be humble in the sense of Psalm 51 (used by Augustine above as well); but it doesn’t justify for that reason. I was just trying to get the distinctions in the proper places to see how one can be simul iustus et peccator in an originary, primal sense before considering how one can be such in the, as it were, secondary sense of Augustine above. I guess that’s another way of saying that there can be two senses of the “simul”: the “simul” of sanctification and the “simul” of justification. Obviously I’m discussing Augustine here in terms of Protestant categories. I wanted to have him as an interlocutor with later Reformed theology, just as the Reformers themselves did.

As I understand it, the faith principle was a salutary development of the humility principle (I have a vague recollection of reading something along these lines in Oberman’s Luther biography, but I could be mistaken). Humility and faith are both important, and I suppose I might gloss the difference between them by analogy to the difference between penance and repentance.

Thanks for your comment.


I found this section from On Marriage and Concupiscience which seems relevant:

If the question arises, how this concupiscence of the flesh remains in the regenerate, in whose case has been effected a remission of all sins whatever; seeing that human semination takes place by its means, even when the carnal offspring of even a baptized parent is born: or, at all events, if it may be in the case of a baptized parent concupiscence and not be sin, why should this same concupiscence be sin in the offspring?—the answer to be given is this: Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin. Although its guilt is now taken away, it still remains until our entire infirmity be healed by the advancing renewal of our inner man, day by day, when at last our outward man shall be clothed with incorruption. (1.28)

[…] Dr. Hutchinson’s recent reflections on Augustine caused me to notice something similar in Augustine’s On Marriage and Concupiscence, which I had stumbled across quite independently. The same notion of simul iustus et peccator applied to sanctification appears there, but it also seems to press further, making the Protestant distinction between justification and sanctification perfectly intelligible. Indeed it seems to be more than a mere anticipation, but in fact an articulation of the same doctrine in different words. A few excerpts will help me to explain. […]

Thanks, Steven. I should be clear that I’m quite happy with what Augustine says above, i.e. a sort of sanctification “simul”; this seems in keeping with something like Col. 3:1-17. I just wanted to explore pushing its boundaries out to justification as well vis-a-vis Augustine, as it looks like you just did in a post; I’m hoping to post something on this soon as well.


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